appalachian bluegrass, Chord chart, Dorian, dorian aeolian, Dorian mode, Educational, Gregorian mode, Ionian mode, Jazz, Key signature, Lydian mode, lydian scale, Minor scale, Mixolydian mode, Music, Musical scale, Phrygian mode
Church Modes Part2
Last time we uncovered a secret to thinking about modes in a different and painless light. These modes that we find in our music classes or in our guitar scale exercise books can confuse our mental capabilities of understanding how to apply them during improvisations. But when one understands that these modes are actually part of key signatures with separate tonics, then things become much clearer!
Let’s take a moment to review the Ionian and Dorian modes:
Ionian is just another word for Major. The Ionian mode begins on the scale degree of 1. Thus, it will stay in the same key signature.
Dorian, however, will begin on the scale degree of 2. If we are in the Key of C Major the tonic of the Dorian Mode would be on the note D. This mode is common in Appalachian bluegrass and folk tunes.
Now continuing on with this same practice of musical thought let’s dive into the other 5 modes.
Phrygian – This mode that has the tendency to sound like a mix of Arabic scale patterns and Dorian/Aeolian (Natural Minor); while still having an erie ora about it. The mode begins on the scale degree 3. If we are in the key signature of A Major we would count up two whole steps in order to get the tonic of our Phrygian scale. Starting on a C# go to your preferred instrument and play a one octave scale using the key signature of A Major. A very interesting sound that has been used in very dark appalachian folk tunes.
Lydian – The 80s baseball movie soundtrack mode. If you ever wonder what a Lydian scale sounds like just turn on any 80s-90s baseball movie and you will hear it throughout! The tonic of a Lydian Scale will begin on the 4th scale degree of a given key signature. If the note we want to start a Lydian scale is the pitch D, then we count down a P4th to find the note A. Which means that when playing a D Lydian Scale you will play in the key of A Major.
Mixolydian -Start on E and play in the key of A Major to get a Mixolydian scale. This mode will be found when the 5th scale degree is used as the tonic. In the key of Bb Major, F will be the tonic used to create a Mixolydian scale. One more example and I’m through with this mode… A# is the pitch wanted to be used for the tonic of a Mixolydian Scale, so what is the key signature needed in order to get the right row of tones? Picture the A# as being the 5th of a key… Go down a 5th and what is the note? The key signature used would be the key of C#.
Aeolian – Is in the natural minor mode. If you do not understand what natural minor is then please click the link!
Locrian – I’m going to make this one simple just for the sake of becoming redundant. The tonic will be on the 7th scale degree, which means that in the key of A Major, G# will be the tonic of the Locrian Mode.
In the key of A Major the following notes are the tonics of their respected modes:
A – Ionian – 1
B – Dorian – 2
C# – Phrygian – 3
D – Lydian – 4
E – Mixolydian – 5
F# – Aeolian – 6
G# – Locrian – 7
Now that you have a thorough understanding of how modes work, I bet you are wondering what is the purpose of knowing these rows of tones if I can’t even apply them?! I would like to explain why you would need to know these modes in the most simple way that I know possible.
Modes can increase your knowledge of how to manipulate pitches for solos and maneuver around the instrument you perform on in a new way by creating new shapes and new muscle memory. The more you practice these modes the more they will be engraved, not only into your mind, but also into your fingers. The more they become engraved into your musical being, the more you can incorporate these new color sounds into your musical vocabulary.
When I am playing a chart of ANY kind (country, jazz, pop, etc.) and there is a needed solo or filler notes coming up, in order to react fast enough to use modes in my solos I obviously have to know them like the back of my hand. So I cannot stress enough the knowledge of these modes literally backwards and forwards, and in intervals of three, with arpeggios and scale melding.
Let’s get into a little bit of the meat of this subject. So, in fact I am playing this country chart and I need to add some fillers on the piano in between vocal lines. It is a country shuffle chart with the chords AbM7 C7 Fm7 Db7 in the verse. I know this is coming up so i have to make a quick call on what to play. I have to get into the groove and play something that makes at least some sense and actually good sense at that on the fly.
AbM7 – I know that with this chord I can play a Lydian scale and it will sound great. It just so happens that this could make a good segue into the next chord…
C7 – Which will use a Mixolydian scale. So about a beat before the C7 I will already be playing in the key of F Major with tonic on C. Moving on to…
Fm7 – I know that a Dorian scale will work with this particular chord which will give me a difficult move into
Db7 – But I will use the common tone of the F to make it work well with the Db Mixolydian scale. This is all using modes. Which I would honestly never do in a country song. But it can work and work well too.
Next time we will dive into how to play these scales in a working improvisational environment. And I will explain in more detail how I can about working out the mode patterns with the chord structure above.
- Church Modes: What are they? Part1 (jedbayes.wordpress.com)